Let credits be given to whom it is owed. I owe my Ladakh trip to just one thing, the Outlook Traveller book on India’s top Trekking destinations which I received as a free gift along with my annual Outlook subscription.
Before reading further, the technical details of the trip in my previous post here
Ladakh never seemed to be the kind of place one could travel alone. It always seemed like one of those unattainable impenetrable exotic mythical destinations. But when I opened that book, the first thing I read about was how to reach Leh. It seemed to me that it wasn’t such a big deal after all. And there began the itch to do my SWBT trip to Ladakh. Well, because I can, I should and why not.
I spent two days in Manali before catching the morning bus to Leh from Himachal Road Transport Corporation bus stop (locally known as Government bus stop). The government bus is the cheapest option to travel to Ladakh, flights and private cabs or Tempo Travelers are the other options all cost more than the state run bus. Manali seemed to be a very safe destination for single women, although as usual, the number of women, whether solo or in group, at the government bus stop were very less. My co passenger in the bus were also mostly males but that didn’t give me any insecurity feeling. Particularly the bus conductor and driver both were extremely well behaved men.
The bus takes two days and one night to reach Leh. That’s according to the plan but there are usually unexpected delays.
Some people fly to Leh. The idea of witnessing the magnificence of the Himalayas is completely lost on them. Please do take the road to Leh, either from Manali or Srinagar. I took it from Manali and let me tell you it’s not easy. You must have a very high level of physical and mental endurance for the journey. It takes you through extreme temperatures, some of the stretches are terribly windy and dusty and some are dry and cold, the roads are bumpy and nauseating. Overall the journey is extremely uncomfortable to say the least and might be fatal if you have any such medical condition that might need attention unexpectedly because miles after miles you’d have no medical facilities. You must also be able to control your bowel movement because miles after miles you won’t have that facility either, and of course erratic eating and sleeping options. In case of road emergency, landslides, water logging etc army cranes or other such help might take 5-6 hours to reach which means you might be stuck inside the bus or car during that time with not even a water source nearby.
Having said that, everybody survives the journey, you just need the will power. And if you find it difficult to gather will power remember there are people doing this journey on bicycles.
I didn’t have any major altitude sickness except a mild case of breathless-ness. As I expected, the people around me were more than eager to help. At one point when we were having a tea break I was really feeling sick and didn’t get off the bus to take photos. The bus conductor and driver noticed this and came to me asking if I was alright. They had a first aid kit with them and gave me some oxygen tablets.
The landscape from Manali to Leh is like a suspense thriller, at every turn there is a new revelation, sometimes it’s green, sometimes pale and rocky, sometimes snow clad. The mysterious rock formation, the rough texture and the unique colours of the rock gives the valleys a dramatic look. If you look closely almost every mountain has a character of its own with its own tale. When you start from Manali the snow peaks can be seen at a distance. As you proceed those snow peaks start coming closer and closer. At peak points like Rohtang Pass or Baralacha La you are at the top of those snow peaks and man are you in heaven or what.
River Beas gives you company from Manali to Rohtang Pass, the point of its origin, so you can see the full beauty of Beas, and particularly post monsoon it is even more gorgeous. One can spot a lot of local shops renting out snow suits and rubber boots for INR 50 per day. People hire the suits for getting inside the snow at Rohtang Pass. The HPTDC bus however only gave us 10 minutes photography halt at Rohtang so we couldn’t actually play in the snow.
The Leh Manali highway passes through peak points and camping sites like Rohtang Pass, Darcha, Jispa, Baralacha La, Sarchu, Lachunglang La, Taglang La (highest point in this journey at 17,480 ft), Rumste, Upshi etc. Many of these are attractive places in themselves and I could see several camps dotted across the beautiful valleys when we passed through these points. Highway bikers, cyclists and other travellers often spend the night in these camps or put up their own tents.
The HPSTDC bus halts at Keylong for the night. We reached Keylong at around 5 in the evening. Tented accommodation was provided to us at the premises of Hotel Chandrabhaga which is a Himachal Pradesh state tourism hotel. The dinner provided by the hotel was decent enough.
We resumed our journey the next morning around 4.30 am from Keylong. Around 6 am the bus got stuck at a nameless point on the mountains because a truck was stuck in a landslide that had occurred the previous night. It took six hours for the Border Road Organization (BRO) team to arrive with a crane and clear the road. Almost hundreds of the BRO staff was at work to clear the road, it was quite a scene.
The landscape changed drastically as we entered the Zanskar region in Ladakh after crossing Sarchu. The colour of the mountains were specifically different. The long road leading to a destination unknown with massive rocky mountains surrounding the valley was most common scene.
Due to the six hours delay, the bus finally reached Leh at 1.30 am in the night instead of its ETA 7 pm.
You can view the breathtaking photos of the journey on my Flickr Album here
To be continued…